I’m an Everygirl, and… my husband passed away suddenly.

We are only ever taught about the ugly side of death. Death is the grim reaper, hiding and waiting to harm us. Death is an illness that makes you weaker and weaker until you can no longer fight. As a society we tiptoe around it, go to great lengths to avoid it, we sequester it to a part of our mind that is barely reachable. We joke about it, as it will never happen to us.

And then it happened to me. On the evening of New Years Eve, while spending time at home with my husband, he died suddenly of an aortic dissection. This rare and often fatal condition has few warnings. One minute, he was there; brushing the hair out of my face to kiss me on the forehead, and the next he was gone.

When first responders were unable to revive him, I was driven in a police car behind the ambulance to say goodbye in the sterility of the ER.

I wish every day that he was still here for me, he was the most special person I have ever met. His generosity, talent, kindness, humor and pure love were unmatched. We spent just more than four and half years together, only one and a half married, but the depth in which he loved and supported me was worth a lifetime.

We would often travel near our birthdays, born 3 years and 3 days apart. 2013 New York, 2014 Mexico, 2015 Austin, 2016 New Zealand, 2017 to be India. I remember so vividly our side trip from Isla Mujeres to see the ruins in Tulum and the Gran Cenote. We were so very happy, in crystal water and warm sun. When other people were taking pictures of the beauty of nature itself, my camera was so focused on him. I was in wonder of this man, so sure of himself, so comfortable in every setting & so easy to please. How did I snag someone this beautiful? He’s perfect for me. Last night I dreamt he came home from work, carrying packages from the front hallway as he often did. He had a big smile on his face, I thought maybe he was carrying a present for me. I had told him not to get me anything. The sight of him startled me awake, shot me out of slumber. I saw what he was wearing and the way he looked at me, but I didn’t get to hug him. Lying there, mad at myself for not continuing the dream, desperate to look at him again, I remember today is my birthday and it is the first I’ll have to spend without him.

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I am keeping myself so together, feeling sure of the two feet I stand on when I turn out of bed each morning. Then a song plays and I’m transported, and begin to feel the unraveling. How can everything be okay without him? Last night I found myself swaying, remembering so vividly a moment from our wedding. Everyone was on the dance floor, but the venue needed us out. Music stopped and everyone turned to Michael and chanted “ONE MORE SONG, one more song.” Heart of Gold by Charles Bradley came on, Jacob put his arms firmly around me and we kissed through huge smiles. Trumpets sounded as our feet shuffled. We were the last people to leave, we stopped to thank every person working and assured them that everything was exactly how we had dreamed. We turned back to look at the empty space, in disbelief of how life could be so good to us.

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What we rarely speak of is the beauty in death. Through this experience, I have come to appreciate every little thing my husband did to express his care for me. The thousands of love notes he left me through voicemails, texts, emails, handwritten letters, instagram captions, photographs and memories have given me endless comfort.

We spent three summers taking portraits of each other every day of warmth, dubbed it #summerportraitseries and were unapologetic in what my family called Public Displays of Photography. Each one of those pictures is pivotal to my healing. I have so many variations of his personality captured, so many small details to draw from for inspiration. I have been writing a tribute to him on my Instagram every day since his passing. It being the platform that originally introduced us and lead to our dating, it feels like the purest way to continue our story in real time.

Grief is very much a taboo in our culture. As much as we want to help people that are hurting, we are never taught what to say or do to help. We avoid the conversation all together, or talk about something that makes us more comfortable. People have said to me, meaning to be supportive, remarks that are so upsetting it’s mind boggling. “I know what it’s like to be lonely, well not as lonely as you,” or “I’m so happy for you,” or “If I were you I would just want to go back to my routine,” I have no desire to be critical of people, it brings me no pleasure. I want to be thankful, that I am alive, that I am supported. I want to take what they meant to say instead of what I heard, which is “you’re in my thoughts.” For each of the really dark days I’ve encountered since Jacob died, I have had a mechanism to cope. Friends, traveling, my family, his family, great books, massages, nature. If you have a friend or a loved one going through a loss, do not assume what they are feeling. Do not tell them everything will be okay. Do not tell them what you would have done if you were in their situation. Just listen. Be patient. Be compassionate. Be flexible. Show up. Tell them something that you loved or admired about the person that’s gone. If you never met them, say you wish you had. Acknowledge their loss. Thank you to each and every one of you who has shown up.

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Our families, friends, coworkers and strangers alike have expressed their sympathies in the most thoughtful and heartfelt ways – meals left on the doorstep, cards in the mail, a valentine’s day playlist to lift my mood, thousands of dollars donated to charity in his honor. Those gestures, link by link, have built a chain for me to grab on to and pull myself up.

Since his death, I have celebrated life each day. I hug each person I love when I say goodbye, as he would have done. I treat strangers with extra kindness, knowing that at some moment we will all experience loss and will have to continue to be out in the world unsure of what’s ahead.

  • Leyla Javadova

    I don’t want to write as if I understand, because I can’t relate. I can’t relate losing someone so close to heart. However, I do want to mention how reading such words, reading your captions under every warm photo, and just somehow completely being revolved in your story has given me the strength to tell you: live on. You’re a strong individual just for writing and sharing. I know for a fact that he’s proud because by all means, not personally knowing you – I’m fucking proud.

    Love your work, fyi. Followed on Instagram – your captions somehow give me life. Hugs from Puerto Rico. Live on.

  • Kacie

    I’ve been wallowing in some self-pity and fear in the past few weeks, taking for granted the life that I have and the wonderful people in it. Thank you for sharing this story, and for reminding me that I’m still here and I need to be grateful for that. Prayers for you as you find your way on this new journey.

  • This is my biggest fear in life. All the love and all the virtual hugs your way girl. <3

    • Melissa Brandão

      Mine too. Maybe everyone´s! It´s something we are not even comfortable to talk about, isn´t it?

  • I’m so sorry! I cannot even begin to imagine! That is my biggest fear is losing my husband too soon- any time before me would be too soon. You are so strong and I’m so glad you have those pictures. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sure people who read it will have to go through losing a spouse someday.

  • Kyla @ House Of Hipsters . com

    I’m so sorry you have to endure this pain. I lost my sister to a double pulmonary embolism. Time stood still that night. The pain, it never goes away, but rather become different. Daily tears stop and a new normal is found. I hope time is swift, and you find a new normal soon. Until then, I will pray for you, your family and Jacob’s family. Much love.

  • I cried so hard reading this. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful love story. Thank you for sharing your story Anjali. Your grace and strength and raw vulnerability are an inspiration.

  • Lan | MoreStomach

    your words and pictures convey so much – thank you for sharing. since meeting my husband 6 years ago, i have had this so-deep fear of losing him too soon. i’m going to go hold his hand, stroke his cheek and take lots and lots and lots of silly pix with him now.

  • Dee

    Thank you very much for sharing your story and pictures. I am very glad for you for having met Jacob and so very sorry that you lost him so soon. My girlfriend lost her husband suddenly as well. They started dating at 19, got married at 32, and he died at 35. I learned a lot about grief from her. That it’s different for everyone, and the hardest time for her was 6-18 months thereafter. She withdrew from all her friends and some days just hid in the corner of her house for hours. I learned that no matter how good are people’s intentions, sometimes what they say can unintentionally hurt/enrage/offend those grieving. She didn’t start to feel joy again till maybe 2.5 years after that. I hope you will find a way to find joy again.

  • Brittany Sampson

    Your words brought tears to my eyes. Tears of sadness because I cannot begin to understand what you are going through but please know that I, a random human in the world, am thinking of you each day. Tears of happiness because I see such a strong, open, beautiful individual wishing to share her heart with the world. To open and show mankind that grief is not scary or something to stray from but to embrace and understand.

    You have a beautiful soul and am sending love and light your way today and always!

  • Heather Rees

    I am so touched by your writing. The love of my life died two months ago after battling cancer. We were married 19 amazing years and raised 5 amazing kids. I wish our society taught coping skills early on in life about death because it is the only thing in life that has a 100% guarantee that will happen to each of us BUT, like you said, we fear it – ignore it and it makes everyone uncomfortable. Then when it happens everyone falls apart and some people even get stuck in their grief because they don’t know how to live with it and process it. My heart is with you as you grieve and are hard hit at times by the void that is so large it can take your breath away or make you physically sick. I would have never imagined grief was this strong and all encompassing. However, I say “Grief is tougher than I expected but so am I!”

  • Cathy

    You are so young to be going through this….I’m sorry. My husband also died suddenly. One moment he was standing there talking to me and the next he was gone. It’s been hard but I know that I’m a stronger better person because of what I’ve been through. My heart aches for you.

  • Dia

    Your love was beautiful. My heart goes out to you. Your strength, grace and transparency is inspiring.

  • Melissa Brandão

    Precisous story. That picture of him swimming, it´s so beautiful!!!! I took a picture of mine crying, as well, but didn´t share. Why do we usually share only the happy pics? My husband asked for the divorce suddenly, it´s not death but it hurts a lot, as well. Be strong is what I try doing everyday. Thanks for sharing your story. Keep walking. ♥

  • Oh Anja, my heart is wrenching for you. I doubt anyone can truly understand the loss of husband as much of those who have gone through it. I can’t imagine not having my boyfriend in my life, and the thought of him leaving this world suddenly brings tears to my eyes.

    I am so happy you have all these amazing photos of him. That’s such a special reminder and gift for you to have forever.

    I usually come into work and read a couple blogs, and here I am in the corner of our open office tearing up. I wish all the best in your journey ahead, and I hope to see more pieces of your writing about your experiences moving forward.

    All my heart!

  • Ana

    This was too beautiful for words.

  • Robin Barrett Wilson

    Anjali, I do know what you are going through. I lost my husband to stage 4 colon cancer. He died 10 months after being diagnosed. He was the most loving, supportive, amazing person I will ever know. He was my cheerleader and my support. I miss him every day and I still love him. I will concur, people don’t know what to say, and it is always the wrong thing. Even 5 years later, people still don’t know. Here is one thing I know is true for me. I will always love him, I will always miss him and I got accustomed to him not being here. I have changed, I am different than before, but that is okay. I suspect this is a similar feeling for most of us who have lost our spouse. Lastly, I wake up every day happy to have had him and happy to be moving forward. I am so sorry for your loss.

  • Aly

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can’t imagine the pain you are going through. An author that I really like, Nora McInerny, started an online community for young widows when her husband died. It may help to talk to other women in your situation: http://www.hotyoungwidowsclub.com/

  • Bindu

    Your message was beautiful and very moving. Thank you very much for sharing.

  • Bee Kaye Bee

    Truly sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing your story. My cousin is grieving the loss of her mother (she died in October 2016 from cancer) and often times after we hang up from our hours long phone calls, I wonder if I said the right things or listened enough.

  • I am so sorry for your loss, but thank you for sharing your story with us. The beauty of your husband lives on through your memories and photos. <3

  • Lipstick on my Teeth

    beautiful, and emotional, thank you for sharing!

  • Laura Grosack

    Thank you for sharing this and for hitting the nail on the head about grief. I lost my father recently and suddenly to a heart attack and much of the frustration in the aftermath comes from people saying things that shouldn’t be said or treating you like a burden because you miss the person with every ounce that you have. My dad was my hero and best friend and I know there will always be a void that cannot ever be filled. Thank you again for your words of wisdom.

  • Harini Gomattam

    Thank you for sharing!
    This made me want to go back to my loved ones and love them more.
    Sorry for your loss.

  • jonelson

    My heart goes out to you. I lost my wonderful husband six years ago and, while the pain grows easier to bear, the heartache is always there. Grieve as much and as long as you need. One day, I promise, you will begin to feel better.

  • Bibi

    I am so sorry and feel your pain. Every word makes sense to me. My husband died suddenly and unexpectedly on 9th Sept at home. We had 40 beautiful years together, married 36 years and I’m lost without him, he was 58. Thank you for sharing your story and I hope we both find our way through this.